Too young to retire, but these deals can’t wait

Howard Goodman and Michael Winerip / New York Times News Service /


Published Mar 12, 2013 at 05:00AM / Updated Nov 19, 2013 at 12:31AM

BOCA RATON, Fla. — Susan Shapira, who is 58, recently moved into a condominium in Century Village, a gated retirement community here where most residents are almost as old as the name.

In the nine months she has lived here, she has learned some of the drawbacks of being a baby boomer among the very old.

“I don’t see anyone after dark,” she said. There is zero night life. The bus is often delayed — walkers slow people getting on and off. And her building’s resident representative had been hard to find after going into rehab for a back injury.

But Shapira says she has no regrets. She bought her two-bedroom condo for cash — $26,900.

“It’s like a car,” she said.

Sometimes it is priced like a used car.

Last year a condo here sold for $7,000, according to the real estate industry’s Multiple Listing Service. One in Kings Point, a similar gated retirement community in nearby Delray Beach, sold for $3,000, according to the listings.

The prices in these large retirement communities are not low because the properties have deteriorated since they were built in the 1970s and ’80s. In fact, they are mostly well kept.

But they hold little appeal to most baby boomers, who never imagined hanging out in the same sprawling retirement complexes that attracted their parents to come here.

With that World War II generation dying off and the collapse of the Florida real estate market during the recession, condominium prices in many cases are lower than they were when the units were new.

According to Palm Beach County property assessment records, Shapira’s condo originally sold for $40,800 in 1980. In 1990 it resold for $65,000.

And that is not an anomaly. In 2012, the average price of a condo in Century Village of Boca Raton was $35,436. For Kings Point in Delray Beach, it was $24,436.

In 2006, at the height of the real estate boom here, the average Century Village of Boca Raton condo sold for $114,000, according to multiple listings data.

Shapira, who was recently laid off from her job in the credit card industry, believes that over time she will look smart for having bought early on. “It’s a nice standard of living,” she said. “That’s how I look at it.”

She raised her son as a single mother, and this is the first time she has owned a home.

Her annual property taxes are just $632.

Barry Fogel, who sells real estate in Kings Point, says that business has picked up and that many buyers are older boomers, in their late 50s to mid-60s. “A lot of them are not thrilled about it, to be honest, but they have no choice,” Fogel said. “It’s all they can afford.”

The vacancy rate among the 7,200 units, he says, is under 2 percent.

And there are signs that as demand picks up, prices will start to climb. In the last few months, sellers in Century Village have raised the average asking price to $50,000, up about $10,000 from last year.

Ben Schachter, the president of the on-site real estate company that handles South Florida’s six largest 55-and-older communities, said the units were not going to speculators.

“These are being bought by people who expect to live in them,” Schachter said. “They’re mostly buying for cash. It relieves them of having a mortgage payment as they get by on Social Security and fixed incomes.”

The communities offer a warm-weather routine of golf, shuffleboard, swimming, nightly shows, lectures, pottery classes and exercise groups.

Ronny Solomon, 61, is an insurance agent from Toronto. For more than 30 years, his father, Morris, 88, has lived in Century Village in Deerfield Beach — first part time and now full time.

About a year ago, Ronny Solomon asked his father to scout properties, and last spring he bought a two-bedroom, two-bath unit in the same building.

Ronny Solomon is not ready to retire. But a strong Canadian dollar made the deal too good to resist. “You can have a property there and not worry about how you’re going to spend your retirement,” he said from Toronto.

Solomon and his wife, Susan, a salon executive, plan to spend “Yom Kippur through Passover” at their Florida condo.

“Eight or 10 years ago, I said I could never live there,” he said. “But you see it changing in the people on the sidewalks, on bikes, in the swimming pool — it’s in transition.”